Samir and Mita wait throughout the night, waiting for the dreaded morning, when they will open their door to find a small idol of Lord Kartik left anonymously at their doorstep. They had hoped that this year would have turned out differently. But it was not to be. Married for six years, a childless couple in Manicktolla, North Kolkata, Samir and Mita each year face the trauma of being branded and reminded of their childnessness.
Arun and Aindrila were married two years back and are yet to plan for a baby. Both are well educated and work in multinational companies. But on November 17, the day after the Kartik Puja, they too discovered the Kartik idol at their doorstep in the morning.
Alongside was a note detailing all the bad things that would befall them if they didn’t offer Puja. Initially Arun thought of disposing the idol, but under pressure from family elders had to make hectic arrangement for a Puja, including locating a Purohit on an emergency basis.
This practice of leaving a Kartik idol in front of homes of childless married couples is an old practice in Bengal. The 21st century and the impending bullet train notwithstanding, the practice has continued with much fanfare. Offering Puja to Lord Kartik is said to increase the chances of getting a male child.
Kartikeya, also known as Kartik, Kartika or Kartik Thakur, is worshipped in West Bengal on the last day of the Hindu month of Kartik. He is the son of Parvati and Shiva, the god of male-fertility and good harvest. He is portrayed as a handsome man with a bow and arrow in his hand.
Kartikeya is primarily worshipped by those who want a son. In the traditional Babu art and culture of Old Kolkata, Kartik is often dressed in traditional Bengali attire. He is equally at home in suburbs of the big city as well as small Bengal towns like Bansberia in Hooghly district or Katwa in Burdwan district where his worship has attained the status of a four day-long community Puja. India’s largest red light area, Sonagachi in Kolkata, has a special place for Kartik Puja, when the god is worshipped and celebrated every year with great love and care.
The reminder of childlessness is equally forthright. Every year, youths and adults in the neighbourhood identify households and childless couples, buy Kartik idols and place them at their doorstep at the middle of the night. Sometime a note is attached with the idol warning of the sin the household will commit if they do not offer Puja for three years.
“Every three years we are reminded, publicly, that we do not have any children. My wife and I wait with dread for this day when we will open our door and find the idol. We are God fearing people and arrange for Puja and share the ‘prasad’ with everyone in the neighborhood. On that day we also become the focus of curiosity and talk in the neighborhood and even a joke to some people,” says Samir.
“This is the first time for us. We do not have any plans for a baby in the next four years, given the nature of jobs that me and my wife have. But it seems our neighbors want us to become parents soon,” adds Arun.
Sociologists point out that its not easy to get rid of tradition and culture. “There is both a positive and a negative side to this practice. The positive side is that it gives hope to a childless couple. The negative side is that such pressure already exists on childless couples and this exacerbates that pressure,” said Dalia Chakraborty of Jadavpur University.
Another sociologist, Gayatri Bhattacharyya, of Calcutta University pointed out that such a practice is a balancing act between tradition and modernity. “This practice is seen more in rural area and semi-urban areas, not so much in elite educated society. I feel it is a balancing act between tradition and modernity. For the poor it is impossible to go for a costly artificial insemination process. For urban households, where husband and wife are working, such practice may be a cause for discomfort,” she said.